Laurel Ridge piloting unmanned aircraft systems (drones) courses this fall

For Immediate Release:
March 11, 2022

Primary Media Contact:
Sally Voth
Public Relations Specialist
[email protected]
Phone: 540-868-7134

The use of drone technology is being expanded in a wide variety of area industries.

Recognizing the growing demand for the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), better known as drones, in multiple area industries, Laurel Ridge is launching new courses this fall to train operators.

The initial coursework aligns with the aeronautical knowledge required for FAA-approved commercial operations as a remote pilot with small, unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) rating, and prepares students to sit for the FAA part 107 exam. Additional courses will cover maintenance, mission planning, safety, drone programming, flight data management, geospatial technology, and using geospatial data for analysis, presentation, and decision-making.

As part of the college’s School of Professional Programs, course delivery will be through a combination of online instruction and hands-on flying time to gain practice and skill.

“Our region, with the amount of logistics infrastructure, is an ideal location for this coursework, and our goal is to support the business community by training high-quality professional remote pilots for a variety of industries,” said Dr. Craig Santicola, dean of the School of Professional Programs. “It’s vital for us to offer programs that prepare students for jobs of the future, and drones are seeing increased use in so many industry sectors in our region.”  

Computer Science Professor Melissa Stange, who is working on multiple drone-related projects at Laurel Ridge, said UAS are impacting so many industries, including emergency response, medical, engineering, computer science, information technology, package delivery, physical and cyber security.

“UAS are a technological game changer in the way we solve problems, conduct business, innovate, and view our world,” Dr. Stange said.

The new drones programming has the support of the Winchester Regional Airport Authority, which views drones as an essential technology.

“Increased demand for drone services will bring new economic opportunities,” Authority Executive Director Nick Sabo said. “A post-secondary education program like Laurel Ridge is proposing will foster workforce development and spur innovation and business growth within our community. This outcome aligns perfectly with the airport’s strategic vision to connect youths and jobseekers to schools, employers, and training programs that bolster the region’s aerospace workforce.” 

Learn more about Laurel Ridge’s upcoming drones courses at Registration for the programs will open March 28 for current students, and April 4 for new students at


Founded in 1970, Laurel Ridge Community College is a multi-campus public institution of higher education. With three locations — Middletown, Warrenton, and Luray-Page County — the College serves eight localities in the Shenandoah Valley and northern Piedmont regions. The localities are the counties of Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Page, Rappahannock, Shenandoah and Warren and the city of Winchester. Laurel Ridge offers more than 75 associate degree and certificate programs in a wide variety of disciplines, in addition to providing access to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs offered on site by a four-year institution. Laurel Ridge also serves the business community by offering workforce preparation programs for employees and employers. Laurel Ridge serves more than 9,000 unduplicated credit students and more than 11,000 individuals in professional development and business and industry courses annually.

Laurel Ridge Community College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award associate degrees. Laurel Ridge Community College also may offer credentials such as certificates and diplomas at approved degree levels. Questions about the accreditation of Laurel Ridge Community College may be directed in writing to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, GA 30033-4097, by calling (404) 679-4500, or by using information available on SACSCOC’s website (

Laurel Ridge Community College is an equal opportunity institution providing educational and employment opportunities, programs, services, and activities. Laurel Ridge shall promote and maintain equal employment and educational opportunities without regard to race, color, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions including lactation, age (except when age is a bona fide occupational qualification), status as a veteran, national origin, or other non-merit factors. Laurel Ridge also prohibits sexual misconduct including sexual violence or harassment. Inquiries may be directed to the Associate Vice President, Human Resources, [email protected]173 Skirmisher Lane, Middletown, VA 22645, 540-868-7226.

Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.